40,000 hits: why news websites should make more of cartoons (and infographics)

Blogging cartoon in Romanian

Blogging cartoon in Romanian

Blogging cartoon in Arabic

A couple weeks ago I published the ‘5 Stages of a Blogger’s Life‘ cartoon, drawn by Alex Hughes. It was an experiment to test a theory of mine: that cartoons could be particularly successful in increasing news website visitor numbers, and that news organisations should be doing more with them.

The results? In one week that cartoon got over 40,000 hits, making it the most popular single post ever on the Online Journalism Blog .

Here’s why: cartoons are close to a universal language. You do not need to read English to understand them. The cartoons went around the world.

I say “close” to a universal language, because there is often a small amount of text. The effort to translate that is minimal, and that also presents an opportunity for bloggers to add value with a little effort – this is what bloggers in Spain, Romania and Iran, among others, did.

And it doesn’t stop with cartoons. How about a well-produced infographic? The second most popular post on the Online Journalism Blog is The World According to Newspapers, a series of cartograms by Nicolas Kayser-Bril that illustrate how different news operations ‘see’ the world. Tens of thousands of visits – many from the Far East – due in part to the fact that it made sense in any language.

And the popularity of video also owes something to this transglobal appeal. Apparently, Cult of the Amateur author Andrew Keen decries the fact that The Evolution of Dance is the most popular video on YouTube. No, it’s not Shakespeare, but he’s missing the point. Its popularity lies largely in how it transcends linguistic barriers, and indeed even cultural ones, spanning as it does a vast range of eras and styles. It’s Saturday evening television gone global. It’s Mr Bean.

So, newspapers would do well to look at one of their often undervalued assets, put it online to begin with (many don’t), and make the most of the opportunities it presents. More on that in a future post.

Meanwhile, if you have any insights into newspapers’ use (or not) of cartoons, infographics and video, let me know in the comments.

(Thanks to SedNonSatiata for the translation of the Romanian cartoon)

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16 thoughts on “40,000 hits: why news websites should make more of cartoons (and infographics)

  1. Matthew Bennett

    I agree about graphics, images and cartoons generally transcending language barriers but I think cultural ones, or mixing cultural and linguistic ones, are more difficult; depending on what you try and do with the cartoon. The cartograms are explanatory; your blogger cartoon is simple and amusing and describes a culture – blogging – that is modern, global and technology based. If you were to mix in more ingrained (national, religious, gender or linguistic ) cultural elements, you would run the risk of getting lots of visits but for the wrong reasons. Cross-cultural satire doesn't work very well, for example: look at the Danes and their Mohammed cartoons (different languages + different cultures) or The New Yorker with Michelle and Terrorist Obama burning the US flag in the Oval Office (same language, different social cultures). Neither of them worked outside of their cultural contexts and neither contained any words, as far as I can remember.

    Reply
  2. Paul Bradshaw

    Very true, and I know the blogger subject matter made it a lot easier, but I think the general point stands.

    Reply
  3. John Thompson

    And yet the blog post containing the cartoon doesn't appear in your list of popular posts (to the right of this column). I assume you mean page views, when you use the word "hits"?

    Reply
  4. Antrax

    The matter on blogging is quite diferent in every country, an let's just say that illustrating the situation in a cartoon is the best way to make everybody read it, and i hope to really understand, not just: " Oh Funny ". ( at least for the sad situation in romanian blogging comunity ).

    Reply
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  6. Matt Wardman

    >Andrew Keen decries the fact that The Evolution of Dance is the most popular video on YouTube. No, it’s not Shakespeare, but he’s missing the point. Missing points seems to be an Andrew Keen speciality. I've seen him writing about "page impression" as a measure of a site 2 years after the Newspaper Industry dumped them as useless.

    Reply
  7. Vivian Vahlberg

    Your post about the power of cartoons online rings true with us here at Media Management Center — particularly when it comes to young people. We recently conducted in-depth interviews about political news online with 89 young people. One of the things we observed in our report, "From 'Too Much' to 'Just Right:' Engaging Millennials In Election News on the Web," (<a href="http://www.mediamanagementcenter.org/research/you…” target=”_blank”><a href="http://www.mediamanagementcenter.org/res…was ” target=”_blank”>www.mediamanagementcenter.org/research/youthelect…was that while young people were turned off by much of what they saw on election sites, they were delighted by the editorial cartoons they saw. Interestingly, a number of them were also surprised by the cartoons; they didn't seem to be aware that such cartoons have been staples of newspaper editorial pages for years.

    Reply
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